Paris Roubaix 2021 – Preview

By David Hunter

Compiègne > Roubaix 257.5km

Paris-Roubaix in October? Yes please! We’d normally be winding down for the year, but with two monuments to be won in October, this period is perfect for those riders who go well at the end of the year. The big question is who has carefully managed their resources to peak right at the end of the season?

The route is different from 2019, the organisers have made several changes between sectors 30 and 22, but it’s still the same old Paris-Roubaix.

Weather

Rain for most of the day, lots of cross/tailwind, and temperatures struggling to get above 10 degrees. This is not going to be a fun day for the peloton.

Key Points

All the bits with cobbles, and everything in-between!

Tactics

We’ve been here before, quite a few times. Despite not lining up with a big favourite, Deceuninck – Quick Step arrive with the strongest team, one where three or four of their pack can actually take the win. This is their strength, especially in a race where domestiques rarely survive deep into the day.

Both Van Aert and van der Poel will be worried, they know they can’t afford to wait until late in the race before launching their attacks. If they do try and be patient, there is every chance Deceuninck – Quick Step are already up the road, with the other members of the wolf pack in blocking mode in the peloton. Just like last Sunday, the big two could find themselves blocked in the main group.

To combat this, they must ride an offensive race. Just think back to Peter Sagan’s win in 2018, he attacked with a long way to go, he didn’t want to wait until he was outnumbered. Asgreen, Sénéchal, Štybar and Lampaert are all top 10 riders in this race, unless they get unlucky, I would expect all four of them to be in the front group for the final 50km. Beating this strong unit will be very difficult, but not impossible. It makes sense for Van Aert and van der Poel to have a little word with each other and both attack from distance. They won’t mind if that means they take one Quick Step rider with them, but any more than that would be a problem.

Aside from those already mentioned we do have other strong riders in the race, but I don’t see another team capable of taking it to the Belgians. This looks like another day of Deceuninck – Quick Step versus everyone else. I think we’ll see the likes of Declercq, Van Lerberghe and Ballerini control much of the opening 180km, then the fun will begin. They’ll rotate the attacks until the elastic snaps, we’ll then see if the riders stuck in the bunch can collaborate and bring them back.

The weather is going to be a problem for everyone. At this time of the year there is a lot of moss in-between the cobbles, once it starts to rain things will get very muddy. A lot of fans are excited about a wet Roubaix, I’m not so keen. The weather increases the chances of crashes, the top riders will have to be strong and lucky.

Contenders

Deceuninck – Quick Step – I’m a massive fan of this team, they cover so many bases. All four of their main men seem to be riding into great form, and they can all handle the cobbles, and the distance. Lampaert was third here in 2019, on a day where he had the legs to win. Štybar was second back in 2015 & 2017, it’s a race he’s threatened to win but has just missed out. Sénéchal was sixth back in 2019, he was also 12th in 2017 back in his Cofidis days, and then we have Asgreen. The Dane has only raced here once, he was 50th in 2019, but we all know he’s much better than that. His record in other cobbled classics is very good, he is one of the best on cobbles in the current peloton. All four of these riders would be team leaders in the vast majority of squads at this race, together they look close to unstoppable.

Wout Van Aert – he’ll still be disappointed after missing out on the rainbow jersey, but it’s good that this race comes so soon after. He was trapped in the main group last week; he can’t afford to let that happen again. Jumbo-Visma have an okay team at the race, they’ll hope that Eenkhoorn, Teunissen, Roosen and Van Hooydonck have big days. I do hope to see Wout ride an aggressive race and attack from distance, there is little point sitting back waiting to be bullied by Quick Step. He might not have won last week, but his current form is still very good, don’t forget that.

Mathieu van der Poel – he just wasn’t his normal self, last week. He didn’t have the power to attack at any point, but given his lack of recent racing, it was to be expected. One week on, will he be better? This isn’t a race you won’t to do with a sore back, if he’s still experiencing any pain then he doesn’t stand a chance. This is a race you can only win when at your very best.

Jasper Stuyven – I was seriously impressed by him last week; it was a shame he didn’t manage to claim on medal in his hometown. He hasn’t managed to break into the top three in this race, but he has impressed. Stuyven is always great at this time of the year, this is a great opportunity for him to challenge for the big win. He’s already got one monument to his name this year, what an opportunity to take a second.

Dylan van Baarle – another rider who impressed last week, second place was a stunning result. Ineos/Sky have long hoped to win this race, but it’s never quite worked out for them. If anyone can upset the big names, it’s van Baarle. He won’t be hanging back waiting for the final 10km, he’ll attack from distance and take the race to his opponents.

Michael Valgren – he makes this section based on his ridiculous form. Two wins in Italy, followed by bronze on Sunday, it’s great to see him back where he belongs. As someone who has always focused on Flanders and Amstel, he’s never actually done this race. That might put some off, but as the race comes at the end of the year, current form is more important than history.

Peter Sagan – probably his last chance to win another monument, I’m worried his move to Team TotalEnergies will see him no longer be a threat in the big races. His current form is quite good, but he’s a long way from prime Sagan. If everything clicks into place, he can still challenge for the win, but it’s not going to be easy.

Prediction Time

Unless they get hit by bad luck, this is a day for Deceuninck – Quick Step. Given how strong he was in Flanders, I think we’ll see Kasper Asgreen double up in Roubaix.

David Hunter

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